First Lady Tonette Walker toured the Walworth County Alliance for Children’s (WCAC) Tree House last Friday afternoon. The complex is located on Highway NN east of Elkhorn.

Walker visited the advocacy center to learn more about its comprehensive approach to addressing reported sexual and physical abuse of children.

“I visited today because one of my initiatives is called Fostering Futures, which is related to trauma-informed care,” Walker said. “In addition, my husband grew up in Walworth County, and so my mother-in-law gets some of the local papers and there was an article written about the Tree House. It was fabulous.

“I already knew a little bit about it through Nancy Neshek (a WCAC board member), and she kept asking me to come and tour. So after I read the article I had to come visit.”

The 4,200-square-foot Tree House enables a multidisciplinary team to provide supportive services and education, as well as a coordinated community response, to children and families affected by sexual, physical and domestic abuse.

According to records, the WCAC received more than 1,300 referrals last year – including 448 involving sexual abuse, 376 for physical abuse and 328 for neglect – and 311 children underwent forensic interviews.

Representatives from law enforcement, child protective services, mental health, prosecution and victim advocacy from across the county join forces at the Tree House in order to make collaborative decisions about treatment, investigation and prosecution of child neglect/abuses cases.

The reason? The Tree House provides a one-stop destination for victims of abuse, and promotes an environment that feels safe, and more secure. It also aids victims by gathering key personnel under one roof, thus preventing reliving horrific experiences several times at different locations.

“The Tree House is a wonderful model for the state. It takes a lot of backing, but Walworth County has a wonderful public/private partnership, so it can be done,” Walker said. “I will certainly bring more awareness to this facility and what goes on here, and it works hand-in-hand with my goal of making Wisconsin more informed about trauma care. ”

20-plus years in the making

WCAC was formed as a separate entity from the Children’s Court Advisory Board in fall 2007 and gained its nonprofit status in 2008. The organization had been operating its child advocacy center out of limited space in the Walworth County Health and Human Services building.

The Walworth County Board of Supervisors agreed in Jan. 2012 to a quitclaim deed arrangement, giving ownership of the five-acre parcel in the Town of Geneva to WCAC, which then assumed all building and financing responsibilities for the property and new complex.

Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, which eventually will offer medical and therapy components onsite, made a commitment to become a partner in this venture in fall 2008, its seventh such effort across the state.

WCAC also hopes to bring the Association for the Prevention of Family Violence into the Tree House for mutual benefit should the former find the financing to expand.

“You can tell the people who work here love what they do,” Walker said. “They love children and that is why they are here.

“I’m impressed with what they get done with the little that they have,” she continued. “Even more impressive, they don’t want to keep things local, they want to bring it to the whole state. They are willing to do anything for children.”

How to contribute

Walworth County Alliance for Children is selling leaves for its donor tree in the foyer from $500 to $5,000. It also is conducting a “That’s My Brick” campaign with names of contributors featured on bricks that will line the exterior walkways. The complex is located at W4063 Highway NN east of Elkhorn.

To get more information or make a donation, call (262) 741-1449, email wcacwisconsin@gmail.com, or visit www.wcac4kids.org.